Last week I shared my techniques for recording an upright acoustic piano. This week I am following it up and share the plug-in chain I use for mixing real pianos.
Mixing a real piano is much more challenging than mixing a virtual instrument of a piano as VI's are generally developed to sound big and balanced straight out of the box. Real pianos need some gentle mixing so that they can sit well and also still sound natural in a context of a mix.
Insert A - Nugen Audio Monofilter
This is a very powerful tool for centring low-end bass in a stereo track whilst leaving the mids and highs in stereo. It defines the low-end energy that a piano breathes when played. This low end energy is prone to muddying up a mix so Monofilter makes it very easy to centre the rumble and attenuate it similar to a high pass filter. Check out Mike's review of the Mono Filter as part of his Nugen Audio StereoPack review and my tutorial How To Focus Stereo Keyboard Sub Bass Using the NUGEN Audio Monofilter Plug-in.
Insert B - Maag EQ4
This is such a beautiful EQ as it helps me shape a piano's tone to the context of whatever mix I work on The Air band helps to lift the pianos sparkle without having to increase the level of the whole piano in the mix. Check out Russ's Maag EQ4 Show & Tell Review.
Insert C - SPL Transient Designer
Yes transient designers are useful on many instruments, not just drums. The transient designer helps to control the attack of notes either pushing the performance into the speakers or back. This is a great tool for adding some extra bite. The SPL works well when a mix is piano heavy as I've found automating the "Attack" to be more punchy for filler/solo parts then rolled back to be softer for verses thus leaving room for vocals.
Insert D - Slate VMR FG-401
This I've found to be the best sounding compressor for my piano recordings. To my ears, it seems to sound as though it's not there at all. Usual settings of slow attack and quick release times coupled with the mix knob help me get a transparent sound. Pianos don't usually lend themselves to heavy-handed compression.
Insert E - Exponential Audio Phoenixverb
You maybe thinking that I add a nice reverb tail to my piano recordings, but you would be wrong. I'm not a big fan of large spaced reverbs on a piano as doing so weighs my mixes down. I use Phoenixverb as an insert with a room preset (usually one labelled Studio). I set the "mix" to around 50% and adjust the "low pass filter", for shaping my tone further, and "stereo width" for stereo field placement. When I'm happy with the balance against other instruments I roll back the "mix" control until the space I was after can be faintly heard behind the piano notes. Check out Mike's review on the Exponential Phoenixverb and R2 Reverb plug-ins.
What are your plug-in chains for piano mixing? Do please share them...